Moving to London is a big step in your life. It’s a big concrete jungle and as beautiful and tempting as it is, often there are predators stalking in the bushes. There are five very important things to know about London, which will be deciding factors whether you will like living in the city, or not.
- 1. London is practically a whole country
- 2. Finding proper accommodation will be the most difficult task you’ve ever experienced
- 3. You might as well learn to ride a bike
- 4. London is not the cheapest (at all)
- 5. London is the cultural and educational center of the Universe
1. London is practically a whole country
With a population of 8 million, London is bigger than 201 other, real countries. It’s so big and developed, it’s practically another country than a part of England.
Many of the 33 boroughs are practically their own towns. Each with developed infrastructure, administration, local council, county court, average property prices and wages and a unique ambience and style of life. They vastly different from each other by both demographic, economic and cultural characteristics. Some are predominantly occupied by practitioners of a certain trade.
Canary Wharf and “The City” are good examples of areas where you can find finance-related professionals – brokers, stockers, etcetera.
Picking the right borough when you first move in can be difficult, especially if you don’t know much about our capital. Spend good time to research with websites like:
A survey from around 1300 Londoners by YouGov reveals the widely popular opinions about each part of London.
Of course, you shouldn’t let generalisations sway your mind before you conduct some research. One thing to know about London is that it’s a dynamic and ever-changing environment. What looks down and under right now might be the next big trend a year from now.
Always try and talk to real people living in London. If you don’t know anybody, in particular, hit the forums, Quora and Facebook groups and ask for information. People are generally helpful when asked about living conditions.
Happy Forecast is an amazing interactive map of London. It analyses each borough using criteria like body language, attitude, property prices and more to draw a happiness metric out. If nothing else, it’s interesting to explore and cute to look at.
- Area Guide for Living in Streatham
- Area Guide for Living in Clapham
- Area Guide for Living in Brixton
- Best places for living in London
Look at what local amenities each borough offers. Are there good transport links, schools and jobs, venues and entertainment? You can’t get all of it, but you can pick an area that suits your top three amenities rather successfully. Probably the most strong factor to influence your decision would be the ratio between rent prices and average wage.
2. Finding proper accommodation will be the most difficult task you’ve ever experienced
There is a distinctive feature that haunts every metropolis – lack of space and subsequently lack of decent accommodation. In London, that trend has grown into a grotesque representation of a housing market.
Quality accommodation in London is notoriously difficult to find. There are a few factors that drive that problem. The properties are very small compared to other European capitals. Often they are very cramped too, trumped only by Hong Kong’s borg cube flats.
Property prices are horribly inflated
London’s local market is dominated primarily by finance and other very high-income professions. This makes a small group of its residents extraordinarily wealthy versus the other 90% of Londoners with regular jobs. There are also many celebrities, foreign investors and multi-millionaires who take interest in London. Combined with huge waves of tourists, national and foreign students, visiting artists and performers and suddenly (well not so sudden actually), London is the place in where everybody wants to be.
As you very well know, high demand always leads to high prices. This enormous level of interest propels prices of everything, including property, into the stratosphere. Developers and investors target the top layer of ultra luxury properties making tenfold returns. Migration from the country and from foreign countries demand high amounts of affordable housing. However, it’s not very profitable and the target demographic is not financially stable. Not many developers are eager to build such properties.
There are planning rules that demand developers to build a portion of their portfolio as affordable housing. However, the laws are not effective and housing is not being developed for the existing demand.
Average house prices in London go upwards of £500,000. This loosely translates into 19 – 20 times the average salary. And while you probably don’t plan on buying anytime soon (not that you can, anyway), rent prices go toe to toe with buying prices.
There is a wide scarcity for available housing
To build houses, developers need to work with local authorities to receive planning permission. This requires extensive research planning and documentation to satisfy committees. Developers get buried under bureaucracy and take years to get to the next stage, where they can actually start building. The Home Builders Federation estimates 185,000 plots are stuck at a point where they must pass a huge list of “pre-commencement conditions”. The process is too long and while the population grows, housing plots remain empty.
The ones that do get built often get snatched by foreign investors, who don’t even live in London. An estimate of 10% – 15% of properties are owned by non-UK residents.
This leaves too few habitable places for the 8.3 million population of London. Then come the never-ending waves of migrants from all over the world, including the rest of the UK. The created demand only drives property prices higher and the vicious circle closes. Simply developing new cheap homes for everybody has proven extremely difficult, if not impossible altogether.
You’re stuck with renting, basically forever
Around 53% of the entire London lives on rent, half of that rents privately. Entire generations are born and raised as tenants. Despite government attempts to provide assistance to first time buyers, Londoners continuously cannot afford their own property. Neither will you.
Renting, however, is a whole multi-billion industry here. And, as with any other industry, we have our sharks waiting patiently for the uneducated pray. In most of the occasions, that’s exactly YOU.
See, less than moral landlords and estate agents love to receive tenants that have no experience.
That allows them to provide horrible properties that:
- are not maintained
- are in serious disrepair
- lack of basic functionality like hot water or heating
- possess potential health risks – mould, rot, leaks, gas and electrical safety
In addition, they allow themselves to charge absurd rent prices that people pay, simply because they don’t have anywhere else to go. In cases where tenants find another flat to rent, it can be very difficult to get back your deposit – sometimes thousands of pounds. Landlords and agents can impose bogus deductions for things you didn’t do. Yet, you can’t prove your case because you lack the knowledge. Or, because you’ve missed on a few key steps at the start that you can no longer go back and fix. Some go as far as harassing and even assaulting tenants.
In no way is this article a propaganda condemning landlords and estate agents, there are millions of decent landlords with good work ethic and millions of bad tenants.
However, in no other country does it happen as often or nearly in such a large scale than it does in London, the UK. This study by Citizen Advice Bureau found that 16% of all privately rented properties in the UK are physically unsafe for tenants to live in. This totals around £5.6 billion in rent paid. We can only imagine how much more are conducting unruly practices of lesser severity.
With the digital age and everything being internet-driven, it’s easy to fall prey to scammy websites and companies.
Get familiar with the basic landlord and tenant laws and responsibilities before you go hunting for properties. We recommend seeking help from Shelter. Shelter empowers tenants and provides assistance with housing, homelessness, and asylums.
3. You might as well learn to ride a bike
London is a very, very complex city. New York, the closest comparison, has been cleverly designed to ease transportation and logistics. It generally produces a much smarter infrastructure. London is not as fortunate. As nearing it’s the second millennium since it’s founding, London has been building, developed, destroyed and re-build and re-developed on top of itself multiple times.
This has all resulted in a very complex structure that is difficult to remember. The “Knowledge test” drivers take to become cab drivers in London is considered the most difficult exam in the world.
Get used to driving backward and parking nowhere
If you come from another country, you’ll observe that driving in the United Kingdom and London is “backward”. The driver sits on the right seat of the car and the car itself moves in the left-hand lane. This traffic organisation is not unique to Great Britain. South Asian and South African countries (ultimately influenced by British colonialism), Australia and Japan also use left-hand traffic organisation.
Beware of the multiple speed limits throughout the city. Special areas like schools and hospitals will have strict low-speed limits. Be constantly aware of your speed and the restrictions to avoid incidents or a driving ticket.
Parking around London’s more central areas is often more difficult than driving. If you’re going out by car, plan your trip and research where you can find parking spaces close to your destination. Parking fines go up to £130, so you don’t want to leave your car in unrestricted spaces.
There are many organised car parks throughout the city. They cost considerably less than a parking ticket and are situated mostly homogeneous. You can reserve a parking spot online through sites like Parkopedia and related. You can also use the many park-o-meters on every street, but those might impose special rules about their use.
For everything else – there is Transport for London
There is an extensive network of public transport available. It covers all possible ways of traveling throughout the city. Well, maybe except air, but you gotta give drones a few more decades. With plenty of links and connections, you can mostly travel from anywhere to anywhere. This includes the nearby neighbouring countries and especially France. Honestly, transport is great, considering the challenges of transporting 8.3 million people every day.
Transport for London is a government entity that controls almost all public transport networks in London. This includes the Underground, Overground, Docklands Light Railway, TfL Rail, trams, buses and taxis.
Each of those is actually provided by different subsidiaries. However, you will learn to hate Transport for London every time the public transport fails you.
If not impossible, it’s quite worthless to memorise the routes, timings and station locations for every type of transport you use. In the mobile era, there is an app for everything, but you will definitely fall in love with City Mapper. This is an amazing route and time calculator. It works for several big cities around the world and adds more to its database constantly.
In London, you will call this your best friend as it will effortlessly guide you through the city, all types of transportation and get you where you want to be on time.
Note: “On time” is a relative term in London. Sometimes, “on time” means fourty minutes late, as the train you’ve been waiting for never shows up because of whatever.
Just buy a bike already
Provided you’re careful enough not to get rammed by a lorry, cycling is a wonderful way to commute. It’s often faster than traffic, especially at laden junctions. You can squeeze into streets and pathways in a way no car or motorcycle can and never ever have to worry about parking. However, you might have to purchase a new bicycle every now and then, especially if you went cheap on the lock.
Provided you purchase a folding bike, you can even combine cycling with the public transport.
The latter might come out a bit expensive, considering the Oyster card fees and the unfortunate new bikes. But it’s probably the fastest way to get from A to B in London on an average day.
Probably the biggest benefit to cycling is you can skip on your daily job, if you feel too busy and overwhelmed with work and tasks to perform. Doing a few kilometers to and from work is often enough to keep your body from fossilising. Like everything, this also has its downsides. Getting to office sweaty is not the best possible way to start your day. But hey, if the mayor can do it, so can you.
There are many organisations and resources in the London web to start you on cycling:
- London Cycling Campaign – a campaign to re-design London to be friendlier and safer for cyclists. The campaign also provides information and organises events about cycling.
- London Cyclist – a popular blog that discusses everything cycling, from gear to routes to gadgets and smart wearables.
- London Cyclestreets – is a very efficient route calculator that will help you pick the most efficient routes when cycling.
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4. London is not the cheapest (at all)
As the new international trade capital of the world, you might expect that everything in London will be a bit more pricey than the rest. London is actually the 5th most expensive city in the world, but the reality is a bit more conflicting.
Living and working in London is notoriously hard, because of the discrepancy between the average wages and the cost of living. Workers in the British capital are ranked the 13th highest paid in the world. But their wages hardly reflect the everyday cost of living and moving in the city.
So, let’s break down the cost of life and see which costs what, so you can get a better estimate.
Note: Every number below will widely vary on the location you live in, central locations being more expensive than outer regions.
Accommodation and bills
Probably the most varying figure. Living alone also costs more per person than sharing a house or a flat with other roommates. A single bedroom flat (Zone 1 or Zone 2) costs about £1000 – £1200. This figure can drastically change considering the exact location and features of the property – proximity to transport links, tube stations, supermarkets and the lot.
Annual council tax usually ranges close to a month’s worth of rent, so circa £110 in our example.
Here, you can find in depth information about average rent prices in most London locations.
Utility bills – including power, gas, water and garbage will end off as £130-150 per month.
Cable TV and average speed Internet will add another £100.
A mobile phone will add another £30, depending on the usage and 3G plans, it might be considerably higher.
To finalise this chapter, we should really add a monthly pass for the public transport, since, you’ll be really using it every day. The monthly pass costs £140.
Total circa: £1650
Eating out and Entertainment
It’s almost unfair to put an average price on restaurants, them being so many in London and so different one from each other. Nonetheless, a decent meal will cost anything from £30-£50 and up. For comparison, a good burger and a beer in a burger house will cost you around £17.
If you eat out a quarter of your evenings (that’s about two or three times a week), expect to pay the least of £300
Theater tickets go around £60 – £100 for the good seats. Depending on how frequently you go, you might grab the lower end, which would be about £30 – £40. Let’s say you go twice a month and it costs you £75 for mid-range seats.
Cinema tickets for adults range from £7 – £12 for a new release. If we consider that not more than two good movies come out each month, on average, you’d be spending £20 on tickets. Add a bucket of popcorn and a large still water and you’re raising the price by another £15.
Here, you can find more indepth information on ticket prices around the more famous London cinemas.
That makes monthly cinema cost £35. This is also the price for an IMAX ticket, but you’d really go only once every now and then, because how many movies are really worth it?
A few pints of beer at the local pub will likely toll you £10. A night out with your friends or colleagues is often around £50 – £70. That includs transportation, event tickets, club fares and a round of drinks. Doing this once or twice a week will cost you around £300 every month.
Total circa: £700
Household and personal costs
If you cook and go for mid-range supermarket supplies, then monthly food will probably span around £250 – £300. This is if you avoid black caviar and you’re fine with spaghetti with tomato sauce every now and then.
Domestic supplies should net around £100 each month. Here we bulk cleaning products, toilet paper and paper towels, toothpaste, shampoo, hair products, and bathroom cosmetics. Obviously, males spend quite less than females in terms of cosmetics and consumables.
Monthly expenditure on clothing can vary remarkably drastic, depending on the brands you prefer. For obvious reasons, we’re excluding expensive boutique stores and just go for stores available in most countries. A pair of Levis jeans costs about £60. An average T-shirt snags £15 and a summer dress from H&M costs some £30. Considering 12 of each should be a plethora of clothes for the year, let’s say your monthly budget for clothing should be around £100.
An average gym membership with unlimited access and plenty of machines goes for £20 – £35 a month.
Considering how much you work, you might be a tad too busy and tired to handle daily maintenance of your home. That said, a lot of people rely on their weekly cleaner to handle the larger part of their chores.
At Fantastic Cleaners, you can get a domestic cleaner starting from £10.5/hr. Considering you do the dishes, laundry, tidy up and clean the mess as it happens, you should get off with a 2-4 hour service once a week. That would be enough to keep the place in good hygiene.
Total circa: £600
We’ve skipped expenditures like a car, electric appliances and gadgets, vacations and impulsive buys. The averages wouldn’t really reflect the reality of most Londoners. However, the above breakdown generally describes a really comfortable everyday life.
The total estimate comes close to £3000 per month, which predicts an annual salary of £36,000, after tax.
The average salary of Londoners rounds to £26,500, which is £10k short of living the good life. With a smarter budgeting, deal hunting, and compromise, you can honestly halve our estimate rather successfully. You can live a good life with less, but you can’t do it from the start, so you better prepare to be less efficient than longtime Londoners.
5. London is the cultural and educational center of the Universe
Well, the British are infamous of their arrogance, though there is some merit to the statement, at least on our modest worldly scale. Aside from the busy and stressful life, London is a paradise of possibilities. You can do everything and see everything there is to do and see.
London is paradise on Earth for artists and creative folk
If you’re in the creative industry, or just interested in music, literature, theater, cinema, photography, design or visual arts – London is the best place in Europe to be. The sky is the limit and there is an inspiration on every corner that will unlock the true artist in everybody. Well, not everybody…
Three out of the top ten visited museums and galleries in the World are located in London:
And they are just the cherry on top of a cake of 857 galleries, 170 museums, and 380 public libraries. There is truly a plethora of culture and art to be seen and read – from archeological and neolithic treasures to historical advancements in science.
London has four UNESCO world heritage sites:
In the famous West End, you can enjoy world class performances from national and international stars. More than 17 000 music performances entertain the crowd every year in London’s 300+ venues, including the O2 arena.
There is a huge diversity of anything, but mostly food
37% of the population were born outside the UK. That alone should be an indication of how much different things you’ll be able to see in the capital. The biggest foreign communities in the city are Indian, Vietnamese, Pakistani, Turkish and Chinese. Yet, there are more than 300 languages spoken in the city.
With more than 7,000 pubs in the city, you can say there is enough drinks for everybody. However, the real gem in London’s variety is really – food. There is an almost absurd assortment of international cuisine. From Marylebone blowouts like the Chiltern Firehouse where the international stars dine, to less pretentious, but equally soul-warming Afghan kebabs in the local joint, you can eat almost everything there is to be eaten.
There are more than 20,000 restaurants and food joints in London. They sprout up like mushrooms after rain, so who really knows how many are there.
Starting out in the big city can be stressful and frightening. Many things can go wrong, but for those who pass the challenge, the rewards are limitless. London is the home of hundreds of thousands of successful people. And you can be one of them, provided you’ve the teeth to bite where a bite is needed.
Image source: ANDREA DELBO / shutterstock.com